Monthly Archives: May 2014

From Athlone to Ennis

After what could well have been the worst fish and chips I have ever had (why don’t any of the pubs in Tullamore have any Irish food?) at the Wolftrap pub we made tracks to Athlone for the 5:00 session at Sean’s Bar.

Lunch at the Wolftrap

Lunch at the Wolftrap – possibly the worst fish and chips I have ever had.

A very narrow pub amongst very old looking buildings on the waterfront and in the shadow of the imposing Athlone Castle.

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Sean’s Bar in Athlone

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Session in Seans Bar

There is a piece of the original wattle and daub wall on display in the pub and it is easy to believe it is 1100 years old. Of course the 5:00 session wasn’t going to start until six so as we were heading out of the pub for a coffee I heard my name called out. It was Shane the banjo player from last night at Grogan’s. He was with is partner Neve and I waited with them as the musicians drifted in. A piper (Greg), the guitarist from Grogan’s (Seamus), a fiddler (Oisin) and a couple of others. The pub was pretty quiet but filled up  as the night wore on. The music was high quality as usual. Played at a pretty gentle pace and quite a tunes I knew. Greg was really knowledgeable and good to talk to. Again I was made really welcome. Played until 8:30 and after dinner with Marion in a nice restaurant across the river (Thyme) drove back to Tullamore by 11.  An early night!

In the washup after the issues with the Tullamore house Marion had decided to go to Belfast so I dropped her at the station and  I headed west (through the now constant rain) – via Birr then Portumna with a stop off at the Castle. A fascinating place built around 1610. it was destroyed by fire in the early 1800s and left derelict until restoration began in 1948.


Portumna Castle and Gardens

The rain eased up as I passed through Tipperary and Galway and into Clare through towns familiar from tune names – Scarriff, the Cross of Spancil Hill and Tulla and then into Ennis. I had forgotten what a charming place Ennis was with its narrow medieval streets and its plethora of pubs. So I explored it until it was time to check into my B&B. Ryehill is about three k’s out of town on the Tulla road and turns out to be more like a motel with a few rooms upstairs above a petrol station. Pretty basic but it’s a bed and its ok at around 30 euros a day.

Time to check out the sessions. Over the coming week there will be 73 scheduled pub sessions! Building up to next weekend when there will be as many as 18 sessions a night. How do I choose?


fleadh nua

Sessions at Fleadh Nua 2014

Not thinking too far ahead I notice Siobanh Peoples is playing at Faffa’s at 6.00 that night (Sunday). This pub turned out to be quite hard to find as it is actually called F Considine’s. Anyhow 6.00 turned into 7.30 and still no sign of a start. Sitting there feeling a bit stupid  I got chatting to an older couple – Mick and Lizie Mulcahey. Mick is from Cork and Lizie is American and they spend 5 months of every year in Ireland. They had driven up from Cork (1 ½ hours) just for the night. He was a box player and a wealth of information and knowledge. As the musicians arrived they all greeted him and he seemed to know everyone. Full of information about who I should listen to and where I should go. Connie O’Connoly a fiddle player from Ballyvourney, Seanus Connoly, Gerry Carrington, Monday at Scully’s in Cork to hear Sliabh Luca, Peter Carbery (box) and Padraigh Mcgovern (pipes), the Con Curtin weekend in Brosna at the end of June. etc.   The musicians started to arrive and unfortunately Siobanh wasn’t there. Apparently she was at a wedding in Limerick and would be back later in the week. The leader of the session was Murty Ryan on the box and there was a guitar and two flutes and a very quiet fiddle player from France. The tunes were fast and I didn’t know many but I did join in occasionally. I was happy to just sit outside the circle and soak it up. At about 9:30 Mick said he was going to another session at Tommy Steele’s. This had been recommended by the guys at Athlone so I was keen to go also.

It was in full swing when we got there. Liam Lewis on the fiddle – a fairly reserved guy but brilliant player. Graham Dunne on guitar and a larger than life character John Rynne on flute. There were a couple of others – Gerry on banjo and Alf on fiddle and later joined by Kieran (that’s a girl) a flute player from New York. The tunes were fantastic and the crack was hilarious as the Guinness (which they were drinking from bottles rather than draft) flowed. A lot of banter and jokes often at my and the girl from New York’s expense. Musically I was out of my depth most of the time but didn’t mind and played along where I could. It was so good to listen to. They were very interested in my story. Liam had spent some time in Perth in the early 80’s teaching fiddle and knew Sean Doherty, and Graham had a brother in Melbourne and had played Port Fairy a couple of years ago. It was a great atmosphere. Everybody seemed to know everyone else. There was a game of digital scrabble happening on an ipad between Graham and John and a couple of ladies in the crowd the tablet being passed back and forth between tunes. About 1130 Graham and Liam packed up but the others showed no sign of slowing. Graham on hearing I was staying in a B&B said he might be able to help and that he had a couple of spare rooms in his house a bit out of town – an old cottage up towards Corofin and said it was a bit out in the country as if that would turn me off the idea. He gave me his number and said he would take me out to have a look. I could not believe it and was overwhelmed by the warmth and generosity of these people.

Those left played on in an empty pub until 2.00. The publican not seeming to mind. John would occasionally make comments on the way I played a tune or bits I got wrong but it was done in such a way that I actually felt good about it. He was clearly listening to me and seemed keen to help and I reflected on a great night as I walked back to my car which I had a little trouble finding.

I eventually got to sleep about 3:00 still feeling the effects of jet lag, lack of sleep and a cold but content.

Every morning of the Fleadh Nua there were to be Café sessions so I headed off to the first of these on Monday morning. This was led by Murty Ryan who I had met at Faffa’s. About half a dozen players some from France, Germany. On Tuesday it was Liam Lewis (Joe Rynne didn’t turn up), It was really great playing familiar tunes slowly and sitting next to Liam listening to his masterful playing.  Wednesday, Yvonne Casey and Eoin O’Neill and Thursday Geraldine and Eamon Cotter.  Just beautiful playing and terrific with tunes played up to five times and not too fast.  A treat to be playing music in the daytime in the beautiful surrounds of the Rowan Tree Café.

Lunchtime has been occupied by Riches of Clare concerts.  stand out so far was Tola Custy, Karol Lynch and Gerry Paul on Wednesday and Thursday with the Quigney’s and Mark Donnellan playing beautiful music from East Clare.

Every afternoon there is a slow session led by Frank Custy and this has been dominated by vistiors each of whom were given a go at kicking off a tune.  The standard was variable but it was great fun interspersed with set dances, songs and recitations.  This will also be on every afternoon.  Met a character, Martin Minogue who claims to be a cousin of Kylie and Dani.  I believe him.  He has a 120 year old bodhran.  Check out the video on Facebook. A highlight was on Wednesday when we were joined by Tola Custy who is an amazing fiddler.  I talked to him afterwards and he is an interesting person with a deep understanding of the music and the land.  As it turns out he will be a neighbour (see later).  He would be happy to give me lessons if he was around but suggested his sister Mary and gave me her number.

On Tuesday I contacted Graham regarding his offer to stay andd drove out to his cottage.  It is set in the glorious Clare country side in a quiet country lane about 5 k from Ennis towards Corofin and next to a farm. Very plain from the outside and very basic on the inside. Beautifully chaotic with guitars and books strewn around. I loved it. Turns out he is married to Niamh Parsons one of Irelands top singers (formerly with Arcady) and he accompanies her on tour and recordings. We seemed to click and he agreed I would move in on Sunday and come to dinner to meet Niamh who is coming down from Dublin at the weekend. It’s funny how things have just fallen into place beyond my wildest expectations.

The sessions are now coming so fast and furious that I can’t report on each one so I might leave it there for now and summarise on my next post.  Not sure when that will be as it looks like I will need to go to London on Monday for a further interview for the job I am going for.  I hope it doesn’t mean I have to cut the trip too short!  Being optimistic.

So many photos and videos to post.  I’ll try when Fleadh Nua is over.  Meanwhile I am posting on Facebook if you are interested.

See you soon.

Categories: My Journey | 2 Comments


Well I am here. Can’t believe it. The less said about the trip the better. No complaints about Emirates but I can’t sit still in an airline seat for 20 hours let alone sleep. Playing Space invaders (the version where you fight for elbow space on the armrest!) with the 20 stone Russian in the adjacent seat is not conducive to sleep. Still I did catch up all eight episodes of the first series of Breaking Bad!

Everything had gone so smoothly there had to be something lurking around the corner. It arrived in the shape of the Immigration man from Hell! With a small grab bag of mainly assorted Aussies and Kiwis we watched all manner of people ushered through the Euro line, without a glance at their passport while we queued for over half an hour. I had no forewarning of the treatment I was to get. My big mistake was booking a return ticket five months out. He did not accept my explanation that I was away for five months but wasn’t going to spend all that time in Ireland. He was not impressed with the suggestion that I was going out of Ireland and then returning, saying I had to go back to Australia before I could start another three months! And for half an hour I was interrogated as to where I was staying (prove it!); why was I here; how much money I had; and how it was all my fault anyway that I was in this situation. I actually thought at one point he wasn’t going to let me in but In the end he gave me three months telling me I had to change my return ticket. This guy would have found a reason to turn St Peter away from the pearly gates. It certainly wasn’t the warm embrace and welcome that I had naïvely expected. But that wasn’t the end of it. An hour to sort out a hire car! Anyway I was finally on the M1 heading into town to pick up Marion and Dermot who were waiting for me at Jury’s Inn in the city.

It was a squeeze – three bodies and a half a dozen suitcases in a Nissan Micra but we were soon on the Motorway out of town and with green fields rolling by we were in Tullamore by mid afternoon.

[Enda had kindly let us use his house as a base and very comfortable it is too but our stay there turned out to be very short (more on that another time) and we made plans to go our separate ways from Sunday staying only three nights.]

A quick search of the internet revealed a session at the Eugene’s bar in Kelly’s hotel in town. The article was 10 years old so it was a risk.  I couldn’t  raise them by phone to confirm but it was worth a punt if not a pint….

Rolling up at 9.30 to an empty lounge there was of course no sign of any session. It looked promising however with the walls covered in musical instruments and memorabilia. It was the most Irish of Irish pubs.

Eugene's Bar at Kellys Hotel

Eugene’s Bar at Kellys Hotel

Marion and Dermot in the Session bar at Kelly's Hotel Tullamore

Marion and Dermot in the Session bar at Kelly’s Hotel Tullamore

Aoife) was also pretty damn good! (a later search of the internet showed her to be an All Ireland champion.

As the only fiddle there I joined in where I could and I even started a set! They were surprisingly generous in their acknowledgement but nevertheless I felt as if I had gate crashed a party at the big end of town. I sang a couple of songs and despite managing to start in the wrong key carried it off without disgracing myself.

Session at Eugene's Bar in Tullamore May 17 2014

Session at Eugene’s Bar in Tullamore May 17 2014

It was a very friendly pub. Marion and Dermot engaged in deep conversation with all and sundry and many people came over for a chat and to find out who we were. By the end of the night we were all best friends! At 1230 it was over and with only two hours sleep since I had left Australia I suddenly hit the wall.

The next day kicked off with porridge and a big fry up – bacon, eggs, black pudding, white pudding mushrooms, sausages – really getting into the swing of things now. Faced with the daunting challenge of filling in time till the next session I succumbed to the regulation visit to the Tullamore Dew “Heritage Centre” which turned out to be a shop selling bottles of whisky (at higher prices than Dunne’s) and souvenirs in a warehouse nestled on the banks of the Grand Canal.  Pretty enough but hardly a ‘Heritage Centre’

Then drove out to Clonmacnoise on hedge-lined back roads through rolling green hills. The ‘real’ Ireland? Clonmacnoise is an old monastery apparently founded in 546AD becoming a major centre by the 9th century when it was associated with the Kings of Connacht and later with the kings of Meath and of Tara.

Celtic cross at Clonmacnoise

Celtic cross at Clonmacnoise

It’s an amazing place with an amazing history. Attacked by the Irish, the Vikings and the Normans on a multitude of occasions surviving and thriving to the 12th Century from when it started to decline. Of course I took lots of photos and I’ll post some when they are sorted.

Meanwhile I had discovered a session was on that night at Grogan’s pub in Glasson just outside Athlone.


Grogan Pub in Glasson, near Athlone

Grogan Pub in Glasson, near Athlone

We arrived just before the scheduled starting time to an overflowing front bar packed with golfers celebrating some tournament that day. Fighting our way through to a separate bar off the side we saw an empty table with the giveaway of a piano accordion and a whistle on the seat. We took our seats and introductions all round. This time I remembered some of the names with Ellen on the accordion and Roy on a Djembe drum and Cormack on the whistle and flute. There was a guitar and a banjo and that was it. The pub was really noisy and unlike the previous night the musicians were pretty much ignored and left to get on with it. A lot of familiar tunes played at a lovely pace.

So I found myself playing well over 50% of the time. I was soon kicking tunes off and quite a number of the Perth tunes seemed to be new to them so I found myself playing alone. I couldn’t believe it – here I was in a pub in a little village in the middle of Ireland playing a tune with top musicians and them listening to me! The hard work of the last few months is starting to pay off as I was playing with confidence and while I made heaps of mistakes it didn’t seem to matter.

Paying a tune with Cormack

Paying a tune with Cormack

Session at Grogan's.  Dermot singing the Rare Auld Times

Session at Grogan’s. Dermot singing the Rare Auld Times

Session at Grogan's.

Session at Grogan’s.

It was all tunes with only a break for a rendition of the Rare Auld Times by Dermott which was well received. It struck me that we hadn’t seen a fiddle in either session. According to Ellen “fiddles aren’t very popular in the Midlands@ It seems to be mainly flute, banjo and accordion. And no bodhrans either. The tunes went on without a break until well after 1:30 by which time the musicians were the only ones left – everyone else having staggered off into the now chilly night air.

The word is that there is a session on Saturday in Athlone at Sean’s Bar. Apparently the oldest pub in Ireland – even Europe. Possibly the World!  Been there since 900AD.

I’ll be there!



Categories: My Journey, Sessions, Trad Irish Music | Leave a comment

A New beginning?

It’s a cool showery Perth Saturday and in between the showers my former life is disappearing in boxes into a shipping container. The container is rapidly filling with the accumulation of things that represent a lifetime of collecting, hoarding and acquiring.  I can’t let go so I will pay to have it stored until who knows when.

Plan B has become Plan A. Unable to find any work since being ‘let go’ last July I am off to live in Ireland for a while. Maybe six months. Maybe longer.  I want to discover the country, the people and most of all the music. And after forty years of struggle, to finally learn to play the fiddle properly! And where better than Ireland to improve my photographic skills?

Whatever won’t fit into two bags stays behind. Not easy for me but I’m sure I’ll adjust to the simpler lifestyle.

I leave for Dublin on Wednesday.  Then Țullamore and Ennis.   Beyond that nothing is planned.

Drop back every now and then and I’ll try and keep up regular posts on how it’s going.

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